Filmistaan happens In Mumbai, where affable Bollywood buff and wanna-be-actor Sunny, who works as an assistant director, fantasizes on becoming a heart-throb star. However, at every audition he is summarily thrown out. Undeterred, he goes with an American crew to remote areas in Rajasthan to work on a documentary. One day an Islamic terrorist group kidnaps him for the American crew-member. Sunny finds himself on enemy border amidst guns and pathani-clad guards, who decide to keep him hostage until they locate their original target. The house In which he is confined belongs to a Pakistani, whose trade stems from pirated Hindi films, which he brings back every time he crosses the border. Soon, the two factions realize that they share a human and cultural bond. The film shows how cinema can be the universal panacea for co-existence.
Nitin Kakkar, director of Filmistaan was born in Mumbai to a photographer father in 1975, Nitin Kakkar grew up on a staple diet of Bollywood. After gaining experience as an assistant director for Hindi movies, Nitin Kakkar made his directorial debut with the award-winning short film BLACK FREEDOM (2004). Since then, he has worked on a number of television projects. ‘FILMISTAAN’ is his debut Feature film. It received a Special Jury Mention during its World Premiere at the Busan International Film Festival and embarking on its international tour, the film won him Best Debut Director at the International Film Festival of Kerala and Jaipur International Film Festival. It has also won the National Award for Best Hind Feature Film 2012.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you come up with the idea of making Filmistaan?
Nitin Kakkar: It’s a very tricky question. It wasn’t one thing. I was working on a script about India- Pakistan relationships but that script never took off unfortunately – they were stories by..Sadat Hasan Manto. I don’t know the trigger point but I thought I could say what I wanted to say with Bollywood so that it wouldn’t be preachy. I wanted to make something fun, not preachy, yet say what I wanted to say.
BT: It’s a very interesting idea and a very interesting approach. There is a lot of love for cinema in there. Did you allow for improvisation or was it very scripted?
NK: We had the shooting script ready. After I had written the first draft, the actors came and we started having readings. Those readings had more improvisations, and anything that made the actors uncomfortable I took out and I changed, because I wanted the dialogue to be fluid and organic. So I gave them that space to improvise in the beginning and then we had a shooting script. On the shoot, we were also improvising, but not in the bigger picture such as the plot or the scene placements, so we were just improvising some lines and moments. My other side of director was seeing to it that I was not making anyone rigid. I’m not very rigid about lines.
BT: Another interesting part of your work is that you don’t show characters that are completely good or evil but who have many gray areas. How did you develop your characters?
NK: This was quite an intentional effort, because this is how we are, aren’t we? Nobody’s black or white, nobody’s God, everybody has their part of devil in them. I wanted that, especially when I have characters who are representing two countries. No country is perfect. That is what makes us human: we have negative issues, that is what completes us. Otherwise we would be God. Characters who are all good are unreal. A lot of films that are made in India are always pro-India and anti-Pakistan. I don’t believe my country is better than yours. To begin with, I don’t believe in countries, I believe in humans. Every country or person has negatives and problems, but you need to accept these and address them and hopefully improve on them. So that was on my mind when writing the script: I didn’t want any of the characters to be too perfect or completely negative.
BT: Where did you shoot the film? The locations are very nice and convincing.
NK: The movie was shot in Bikaner, which is a town, but we went about 60 km away from the town. I thought I would use a lot of wide lenses to show the emptiness of the place. We shot it last summer. The whole film was shot in 20 days.
BT: How did you go about casting?
NK: That’s been an interesting process. When I was writing the film, I didn’t have anybody in mind but I knew they had to be good actors and there had to be a good chemistry between all four of them. Sharib, who is the protagonist of the film in a way, is also the co-writer of dialogues on the film. I had cast someone else initially but it didn’t work out. I’ve known Sharib for many years – we were assistant directors together. I knew he could pull it off because he had it in him and wanted to become an actor. He is a brilliant actor inside of a writer. I could see Sunny Arora (protagonist’s name in Filmistaan) in him. So I went ahead and cast him even though he is not a trained actor. The other three actors, Inaamulhaq, Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt, are trained actors from NSD (National School Of Drama)…….. I wanted new faces and this is how I stumbled upon the gems I found: they are very good with their work and I am glad that they agreed to do the film with me.
BT: The film is more on the side of humor but it also goes into tragedy, and back and forth. How did you work this in the structure of the film?
NK: This was also intentional. I didn’t want to make a preachy film and I wanted to make it very human. While writing the script, I wanted to have some subtle moments but move on and not have the scene too heavy. So there are different layers to the writing.
BT: How has the film been received and how was the theatrical release?
NK: It had a world premiere at Busan International Film Festival and that was the biggest push for us at that time. We had not expected this, we were just a small group who made this film because we believed in it. It was very well received in Busan and then I think it was on a roll. After this, many people invited Filmistaan for their festival in different parts of the world. The film is very loved. In Korea, they related it to the North and South Korea issue. Movies do that to you. In India, it was received very well; it recently won the national honor, I think that is the highest honor a filmmaker can get. Earlier, no one was coming forward to release the film but now Shringar Film has taken it over and they’re releasing it in June. So it’s been a long journey, from not having enough money to make this film, to winning a national award, to having a theatrical release.
BT: Thank you. Tell us about your next film you are working on.
NK: I have two scripts ready. Right now, my focus is Filmistaan getting a proper release, because I think a film is not complete until it meets its audience. Yes, festival audiences have been meeting the film, but a theatrical audience would complete the film, in a way. Then I will be moving on to my next project: I have two scripts ready and I hope I get producers funding the next film.
Filmistaan will be screened at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles